Our long-term Chevrolet Cruze is cruising along quite nicely. Ever since the launch we have been impressed with the car’s comfort levels, its stylish appearance and the handling. More on these aspects later, but first we can chat about the powertrain.
The Cruze promises a strong drive thanks to a host of chassis refinements including a high level of torsional rigidity that helped in running refinement, suppressing noise vibration and harshness (NVH). About 65% of the car is made of very strong steel which helps it achieve rigidity and body stiffness not generally known in its segment.
However, none of that takes away from the interior comfort experienced by both driver and passengers. The car is largely insulated from engine noise which means it cruises quietly at higher speeds. But because the engine is so small at 1.8-litre naturally aspirated, one really has to plant the right foot down in order to get any amount of power from the throttle. Yes along the coast it’s better but here in Gauteng it really suffers, never mind that the 16V DOHC motor has 104kW at 6200rpm and 176Nm at 3800rpm. Its 6-speed automatic is smooth enough but at times tends to pick up the wrong gear. Once it gets going though the Cruze 1.8 LT is able to pick up velocity and keep its place in fast traffic. You can leave it in full automatic or stash it into the semi-auto gate to the left where gears can be changed manually.
The 60-litre fuel tank has been tested recently and came a little short of expectation. We averaged 10.2 litres per 100km which, while not being too bad, is a bit high for the class and powertrain combination. This and the power concern will be addressed when the 2.0-litre turbo diesel arrives in 2010.
Pulling the car are the front wheels which means a little underersteer can happen in spirited instances. However under normal driving conditions the FWD is safer because it can interfere with an out-of-control car. Thanks to the ABS safety feature you can bring the car back under control if lost under braking conditions. I haven’t had such an incident yet, despite the recent heavy rains in Jozi. We know it was tested under extreme conditions in Europe, including snow and ice in Sweden as well as scorching heat in the south of Spain. Over 1.2 million kilometres were covered, so it’s quite strong.
Taking it over gravel roads in the Cruze showed its mettle by remaining steady and snug over uneven surfaces, including stones as well as bumps. GM South Africa did say at the launch that an extensive test programme had also been instituted locally to cover our unique road circumstances. Where the market leader from Japan is known for its prowess over our dirt roads, the Cruze went about its business with no fanfare but came out impressive nonetheless. Playing a major role are the 215/50R17-91V tyres wrapped around 7Jx17/215/50R17 wheels.
One of my favourite bits is the sporty steering wheel with two thumbrests. It gives excellent grip and allows for agile turning. The front suspension layout consists of a McPherson struts while the rear has compound crank axle system. Traction control is standard on this model. The satellite controls include sound system volume controls on the right hand side and cruise control on the left.
We’ll soon embark on a journey down to KwaZulu Natal where the Cruze will again be put under the spotlight in terms of fuel efficiency, power delivery, comfort and driving entertainment value. The drive will include more gravel, freeway cruising and child-friendliness testing. Look out for that report.